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Recipes and Stories

12 January 2023: Post-Holiday Refreshment—A Quick Sauté of Chicken Breast with Butter and Herbs

Classic Quick Saute of Chicken finished with Butter and Herbs


In the late seventies and early eighties, the airwaves of public radio were graced with the homespun wit and wisdom of Kim Williams, a naturalist and writer from Missoula, Montana. Her commentary covered just about every aspect of life, but the one that has stayed with me, and is inevitably brought to mind by this time of year, extolled the virtues of joyfully abandoning our self-control for a season of unchecked feasting.


Taking a cue from the oft-quoted beginning of the third chapter of Ecclesiastes, "To everything there is a season," she believed that periods of unreserved celebrating were essential not only to our mental wellbeing but to our physical health. And so, from Thanksgiving until Epiphany, she made a point of feasting with abandon, never letting an opportunity to indulge in the holiday's richest food and drink pass her by.


But then, along about the second week of January, she would look in the mirror and say, "Okay, butterball: that's enough celebrating for you." It was time for the feast to give way to an equally essential season of discipline and thoughtful self-restraint.


Ms. Williams understood that our time on this globe is uncertain and short. We aren't meant to spend every moment of it in somber self-denial. But we're also not meant to shorten that time by wrecking our health with unchecked self-indulgence. She also understood that there's real pleasure to be had in the discipline of taking control of our appetites, in discovering anew the beauty and delight of simplicity.


I never make New Year's resolutions anymore. But like Ms. Williams, without apology I take every opportunity to indulge in holiday richness. Then along about now I take a long look in the mirror and say, "Okay, butterball: That's enough celebrating for you," and look forward with pleasure to the refreshment that comes from a thoughtful season of discipline and self-restraint.


Sauté of Chicken Breast with Butter and Herbs


The fat used in the sauté is barely enough to keep the chicken from sticking and the calories it adds are negligeable, so finishing it with butter may seem luxurious and counter-productive for dieting. But the few calories it adds (a little less than fifty) are well spent, since fat carries flavor, helps us feel sated more quickly, and when it's uncooked, our bodies more easily convert it to energy rather than storing it in places that we don't want it to be.


For quick, even cooking, here the chicken breasts are cut into bite-sized pieces.


Serves 2


8 ounces boneless, skinless chicken breast or boned and skinned chicken thighs

Extra virgin olive oil

Salt and whole black pepper in a mill

1 small shallot, split, peeled, and minced

½ cup chicken broth

1 tablespoon minced flat-leaf (Italian) parsley, oregano, rosemary, or sage (or a combination)

1½ tablespoons cold unsalted butter, cut into bits


1. Trim the cartilage and fat from chicken and cut it into uniform bite-sized chunks. Wrap in paper towels and thoroughly pat it dry.


2. Film a 10-inch heavy-bottomed skillet or sauté pan with olive oil and put it over medium high heat. When hot but not smoking, add the chicken and toss until its surface is white and opaque, about 1 minute. Season to taste, adjust heat to medium, and continue sautéing until just cooked through, about 4-5 minutes.


3. Remove the chicken from the pan with a slotted spoon or spatula and add the shallot. Sauté until golden, about 2 minutes, then add the chicken broth. Bring it to a boil, stirring and scraping the bottom of the pan to loosen any cooking residue, and boil until it's reduced by a little more than half. Turn off the heat, return the chicken to the pan, and add the cold butter and herbs. Toss until the butter is dissolved into the liquid and the chicken is coated. Serve at once.

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